Monday, June 9, 2014

Criticwire Survey: Meeting Movies on Their Own Terms

Q: Many of the positive reviews for "The Fault in Our Stars" boil down to either "It's good for what it is" or "It gets the job done." But in an essay at Slate that deals in part with John Green's source novel, Ruth Graham says that one of the reasons more adult readers have turned to Young Adult novels is because it offers the pleasures of literary fiction without its challenges: "Adults," she writes, "should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children." So, as a critic, what's your feeling about measuring a movie—whether it's "The Fault in Our Stars" or "X-Men: Days of Future Past" — against what it sets out to do as opposed to what it could do? (Likewise, do you damn "Orange Is the New Black" for not being "Oz"?) Do you take it on its own terms, or do you set your own?

I haven’t seen The Fault in Our Stars yet (tomorrow most likely, unless my Kings go too far into overtime tonight, and I’m too tired to make the late show tomorrow) so I cannot address that movie specifically. But in general, I do try and take a movie on its own terms, while offering at least some of my own terms to the mix as well. When I reviewed the recent “Legends of Oz” movie for example, I did note that the film really did seem to involve my two and a half year old daughter from beginning to end – even scaring her in parts – while still acknowledging that I thought the movie was crap from my perspective. So if the filmmakers wanted nothing more than to produce a time waster for small children then then succeeded, even if the movie is a dismal failure in most respects. What I try to do in a review is let the reader know if he or she will like the movie, even if I didn’t and vice versa (I quite enjoyed Post Tenebras Lux last year for instance – but know many would not). I did read Ruth Graham’s piece, and for the most part I do agree with it. I have read some YA books in recent years before the movies based on them came out – I was embarrassed as hell to be reading the Twilight and Divergent books (which were dreadful and not very good respectively) – but did quite enjoy The Hunger Games novels, and wasn’t really embarrassed by reading them. Her general point however is that adults shouldn’t just embrace YA novels at the expense of richer, more complex novels aimed at adults – and that’s very much true.
Great movies transcend their genres – and should be able to win over converts outside their target demographic – Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was able to do that, as was Sam Mendes Skyfall or last year’s young adult romance starring Shailene Woodley – The Spectacular Now. They do this by tapping into something deeper than most in the genre go for. There’s nothing wrong with making a movie that doesn’t have the same ambition (accept if NO ONE had that ambition, film would become boring rather quickly), but I think as a critic, you need to make an effort to meet a film half way. I cannot be anyone other than myself though – so even if a legion of teenage girls loves Twilight, I cannot praise a film that made me role my eyes nearly constantly. While I think a critic needs to meet a film halfway – I think the film needs to do the same.

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